March Madness officially arrives on Thursday. With four consecutive days of wall-to-wall college hoops action, you’re probably not going to be getting too much work done. But hey, that comes with the territory at this time every year.
While Akron is in good form, NCAA basketball betting sites like UCLA to win this one fairly easily. The latest odds from BetOnline have the Bruins favored by 13.5 points in this game.
UCLA is a trendy pick to win it all this year, and with good reason. While the Bruins’ status as a No. 4 seed is fairly disappointing considering their deep Final Four run last spring, UCLA does seem to be peaking at the perfect time. Mick Cronin also had the fortune of bringing back the vast majority of last year’s team, which gives the Bruins one of the most experienced rosters in the 64-team field.
If you watched last year’s NCAA Tournament, you’ll remember most of the big names on the UCLA side. Johnny Juzang led the Bruins in scoring with an average of 16 points per game on the year, while Tyger Campbell and Jaime Jaquez Jr. are both still here. Big man Cody Riley, who battled injuries this year, could also be a major factor in the tourney coming off the bench. The Bruins had a five-game winning streak snapped with a loss to Arizona in the Pac-12 title game. There’s no shame in that, of course, as the Wildcats look like a real threat to win the national championship.
Juzang was one of the breakout stars of last year’s tournament. He decided to return to school for his junior campaign, which was a questionable decision at the time. Juzang didn’t noticeably improve in any area from his sophomore to his junior year, but he does give UCLA a versatile scoring option on the wing. He scored at least 23 points in four of UCLA’s six NCAA Tournament games last year, including an impressive 29-point showing in their Final Four overtime loss to Gonzaga. However, he has been hampered a bit by a lingering ankle injury in the latter stages of the season.
With so many dynamic perimeter scorers capable of creating their own shots, it’s no wonder the Bruins look like one of the most dangerous teams entering the tourney. UCLA also has a tremendous size advantage over most of their competitors. Four of the Bruins’ top five players in terms of minutes per game are at least 6’7″.
UCLA finished the season just 17-14-1 against the spread. However, they have fared pretty well as favorites, with a 16-11-0 mark in games in which they’re favored.
Akron isn’t known as a mid-major basketball powerhouse, but this is a program with some skins on the wall. The Zips won at least 20 games in every season between 2006 and 2017. However, this is a team that hasn’t made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2013. That’ll change today when they take on the mighty UCLA Bruins in Portland.
Head coach John Groce last coached a tournament team in 2013 when he took the Illinois Fighting Illini dancing. Groce has long been known for coaching a slow, defense-first style. While that may not make Akron the most aesthetically-pleasing team, it is a playing style that can get results in these kinds of single-elimination competitions. The Zips’ grind-it-out style has a way of wearing on their opponents.
If this game turns into a track meet, the odds will tip in favor of UCLA. If Akron can find a way to slow the tempo and play at their own pace, however, they can keep this one within reach. The Zips’ average possession during the regular season lasted over 19 seconds. According to the KenPom rankings, that makes Akron the slowest team in the entire tournament field on a per-possession basis.
Clearly, the Zips are outmanned in terms of high-octane offensive weapons. Akron converted on 35.6 percent (72nd) of their three-pointers during the regular season, while UCLA ranked 84th in the same category (35.1). Rather than settling for too many threes, however, Akron is known for a more aggressive offensive approach. In fact, the Zips ranked fifth in the nation in free-throw attempts per field goal attempts per game. A whopping 21 percent of their points come from the foul line, as well.
The Zips went 18-14 against the spread this season. They have fared incredibly well as underdogs, however, with a 9-2 such mark.
UCLA Bruins vs. Akron Zips March Madness Game Pick
Akron knows they’re up against a potential juggernaut in this game. However, Groce’s aforementioned style is perfectly geared to trying to slow down their opponents and grind the game to a halt. The Bruins have more than enough firepower to overcome that, of course, which is why they’re such massive favorites in this one.
A 13.5-point spread is a massive one by NCAA Tournament standards. UCLA has a very good shot at winning it all, but I’m not convinced they’ll have such an easy time with an Akron team whose style typically leads to lower-scoring, close games. I think the Zips are great value to cover the 13.5-point spread in this one. They’ll still lose, but there’s consolation in avoiding the blowout.
UCLA Bruins vs. Akron Zips Betting Recap
- Moneyline: Akron +825, UCLA -1400
- Point Spread: Akron +13.5 (-110), UCLA -13.5 (-110)
- Over/Under: Over 128 points (-110), Under 128 points (-110)
- Pick: Akron Zips +13.5 (-110)